This is an unusual offering, and it’s very far from a
conventional single disc survey of Dowland’s music, either
for lute or voice. Instead it offers recreationist possibilities
and a more curious interplay between his music and that of the
performer-composer Peter Croton who has been inspired by it.
He has arranged a number of Dowland’s songs for lute,
Croton’s own instrument, and there are several of his
own compositions as well.
Croton is a fine lutenist, with an acute ear for colour, and
he possesses a strong technique. He’s not as zesty or
tangy a performer as is, say, Nigel North, whose own performance
of the Preludium, with which Croton starts the programme (authentic,
unmediated Dowland) is more vital. For the ‘arrangements’
Croton is careful to vary the possibilities for contrast –
stating the theme on the lute, for instance, before the voice
enters, or introducing solo lute B sections. This last device
is something he employs extensively in Now, O now I needs
must part which is the longest setting. Whereas a long introductory
lute solo prefaces the song proper in Time stands still.
What gives this project even greater resonance is the chosen
singer, Theresia Bothe. Her voice continues the theme of cross-current
enshrined in the disc; it embodies elements of classical purity
in places but also has a decided folk influence more commonly
to be found among the Waterson and Wainwright clans. This is
deliberate of course, the better to inflect these arrangements
with a sense of intimacy, though whether it actually succeeds
in transmuting – or limiting – the original source
material from the Books of Songs is very much a matter of taste.
I find it often very effective but sometimes a failure. Time
stands still is a case in point, where the emotive quality
is curiously stunted.
Croton’s own compositions occupy an equally modern ground,
one akin to music theatre, which is how Bothe delivers Remembrance
of things past. For the three remaining songs Derek Lee
Ragin joins Croton. Again the music is Broadway orientated,
intriguingly so given the ensemble involved. Do I detect however,
in Croton’s writing and playing, hints of the oud in the
exotic Rumi setting, giving it an even greater sense of place?
Ragin by the way seldom uses his counter-tenor, singing pretty
consistently in his lower voice.
So this is a somewhat out of the way disc, pursuing a very individual
slant on Dowland, and succeeding more often than not.